Thursday, 17 March 2011

Mystery of Suffering

I wrote this last Thursday reasy for the column in the Chester Standard , the day before the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan; events like these really do gt me wondering! Many of my wonderings over the years keep coming back to “why questions”. Questions that all of us ask when we start to really think about life and God’s place in it. Probably the biggest “why question” is, ‘why is there suffering?’ This question at times touches all of our lives. In these days of instant communication we are confronted regularly with unbelievable suffering caused by the major horrors of famine, war and natural disasters. Even though we may become immune to such things that happen at a distance, sooner or later suffering strikes closer to home, whether in our own lives or in the lives of those who are close to us.

There is also no problem that impinges more directly on the question of the existence of God. In hundreds of conversations I have had with people about the relevance of the Christian faith, this question has come up more than any other. If there is a God, why does he allow such suffering? I believe that most people, unconsciously or otherwise, resist the idea that God is evil and desires to make life miserable for us. It is easier to reject the idea of God altogether. This solves the problem by removing the dilemma. However, it also raises several other problems. First, there is no one to blame for the suffering. You may complain, but you have no right to complain and no one to complain to. If there is no God, why shouldn't there be suffering? In a godless universe there is no reason at all why there shouldn't be. Second, you have no one to turn to for strength to cope, other than your own limited resources or the resources of other humans, who might, one hopes, care about your suffering.

To rule out the existence of God raises a third problem. How do you explain such things as love, unselfishness, gentleness, goodness, sacrifice, reason, intelligence, and justice? C. S. Lewis, once said: “When I was an argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A person does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line...Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.”

Sometimes people ask why doesn’t God intervene – the answer is that he did, nearly 2000 years ago, God intervened in the lives and history of man by giving His Son Christ Jesus to share in human suffering. As we go through this season of Lent, this 40-day period, before we celebrate Easter, is it time to stop, to let go and to give away. Maybe, even the time to embrace the mystery of suffering in the light of a loving God.


  1. Thanks Andy for your thought provoking column in the Standard - I read it every week and this week I cut it out for my husband to read. He always raises the same question, "why is there suffering, if there is a God", and we have had numerous conversations about this. Why did his friend die of cancer at the age of 20? Why did his step mum die of cancer at the age of 40? What kind of God thinks this is fair and just? I am afraid I am not the best person to explain these kind of questions, regardless of several attempts, and asked him to read your thoughts on it. I am not sure if he has read it yet, but I have left it on the table for him. I like C.S. Lewis' thoughts on this too. All in all, it is a mystery, and I believe if the world was the way God intended, there would be no suffering. However, the fact is, world is not the way God intended or planned. We are not the way God intended or planned. There is violence. Lies. Hurting. Broken dreams. Loneliness. Envy. Hatred. Incompleteness in all of us. We do bad things to each other and ourselves, every day. Whether it is just a small thing, like not listening to each other, or something worse, such as not being quite honest about something. Whatever it is, the fact is that we do not love each other, or ourselves, the way God intended. Not the way God loves us. But there is another side to this suffering. Suffering we do not cause ourselves. These natural disasters, or sickness, or random accidents. What is the meaning of these? Why does God allow this? I really am not qualified to answer these questions, but I do believe God knows what is going on, and he does not wish bad for anyone, however, we live are living beings, we get sick and we all die one day. There are no certainties about this life here. I may die tomorrow. I may live until I am 105. There only lasting thing is God. Everything else changes. We live on a planet, we are part of a big universe, and there are certain realities linked to living in this universe, and natural disasters are a part of it. For me, the real comfort is that God is with us, in the good and bad, he gives us strength to get through the difficult times, just like he is with us on those good days too. God makes us want to be better people, and this is where Jesus comes into picture for me. Through Jesus' work and example, you and I, we can all learn to love our family and friends in the right way, as well as ourselves, and because of this there is a chance that there can be less and less suffering in this world. We can trust our lives with God, and through him we can get inner peace. His promise is to be with us, now and forever. Through the suffering but also through the good times that we all experience during our lifetime.

  2. Thanks Anne for your thoughts - no easy answers to our questions. One thing we can hold onto in the midst of life if the knowledge and experince of God's love as you say we can then find some hope and peace.